Nickelsville farmer Doyle White shows the effects of the continued drought Wednesday as a handful of soil from his tobacco field flies away in the wind. At top, one of the tobacco seedlings White planted recently withers in the dry field. Erica Yoon photo.
Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia farmers are more likely to see their children attempting a rain dance this season than to hear them singing, "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day," thanks to persistent drought conditions continuing to plague both regions.
Meanwhile, the farmers themselves are probably either inside keeping tabs on the Weather Channel or outside watching anxiously for cloudy skies to pour out some much needed rain.
On May 22, the National Weather Service's senior staff hydrologist in Morristown, Brian Boyd, issued a statement announcing severe (D2) and moderate (D1) drought levels throughout the region.
Scott County's extension agent, Scott Jerrell, met with the Board of Supervisors Wednesday to request that the county be declared a disaster area due to the current drought conditions, which he'd said was a possibility in a Times-News article published May 30. Officials at the extension office expect neighboring counties will follow suit, if they haven't already.
One thing's certain. Every farmer affected by the drought is hoping the same thing Doyle White, of Nickelsville, hopes - that it rains today, and the next day and the day after that.
"It's still early yet. We might come out of it yet, you know," White said, who is still hopeful about this year's tobacco crop.
Although he used to grow about 15 acres, he only signed up with Philip Morris to raise 15,000 pounds on roughly six to seven acres of land.
"I usually get my tobacco out first, and I need to start on cutting hay," he said. "It's (the hay) not real good. It's thin and burnt up sorta, you know. I kept waiting, hoping we'd get some moisture in the ground before I set the tobacco, and we finally set it last week, and I don't know. If we don't get some rain, it's not going to live. I looked at it Tuesday, and it looks like I've lost a third of it."
"If we can get some rain here we can go through and put it back, but if we don't get any rain there's no point," White added. "I've got the Weather Channel on. It keeps showing these severe weather storms, but most of them are up in New England and Jacksonville in Florida, so it doesn't look like it's going to hit us."
White, who has a portion of Copper Creek on his land, said he spotted a cow walking up the creek when he was out repairing a fence line a few days ago.
"It's the driest I've ever saw in this area," he said, adding that he doesn't have an irrigation system.
In addition to his tobacco, hay and garden needing water, the approximately 40 head of cattle and some saddle horses roaming over approximately 70 to 80 acres of bone-dry pastureland and wooded areas need water and greener grass to graze.
White says he's counting on hurricane season to yield its usual bounty of rain.
"Last year it was pretty dry early, then it started raining," he said, adding that if it doesn't, there's not much he can do but fall back on insurance money to get a little of his investment back.
If the situation doesn't improve, White said he'd weighed the options of selling some of his cattle or turning them loose on some pastureland he usually keeps for winter.
"I'm just hoping it'll rain pretty soon," he said, adding that he also might cut some hay and "give them some of the hay land to try to make it through till it rains."
"It's not looking good. It's depressing," he concluded. "Nothing's doing any good. ... There's just not a bit of moisture in the ground."
John Stallard, who has approximately 75 head of cattle, agrees, "It's not much of a life right now. Everybody's depressed and ill."
"Farmers have two choices, buy feed or sell cows. And there's no feed to buy, so I guess it's sell cows," Stallard added.
The day before the Scott County Board of Supervisors approved the disaster declaration, he had said, "What we need is for this area to be declared a disaster and get a cost share on feed to be purchased."
"They're gonna get their money either way, but farmers aren't," he said, explaining, "It'd be like working for six months and not getting paid."
Tomorrow, John Stallard and county extension agents go more in depth with the numbers and other facts compounding drought effects (corn, gas costs, etc.) and what solutions they're trying.